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Volume 48 Number 1
Edited by Rhonda K. Lewis
Written by Tiffany G. Townsend
Senior Director, American Psychological Association
Greetings Members of SCRA. I would like to introduce myself. I am the relatively new (appointed less than five years ago) Senior Director of APA’s Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs (OEMA). As some of you may know, this is not only a new position for me, but also a very new role for my career. I am a clinical psychologist by training, and due to my passion for applied research and social justice, I consider myself a community psychologist in practice. In fact, I have roots right here at Division 27. Prior to joining the staff of APA, I served as the Northeast Regional Coordinator for SCRA from 2004-2007 and then as the Member At Large on the SCRA Executive Committee from 2009 until my appointment here at APA in 2011.
This is an exciting new direction for me, and I must say, I am honored to serve the membership of APA in this new capacity. However, in many ways this administrative appointment is simply a new avenue for me to further my social justice mission on a broader scale. OEMA is housed in the Public Interest Directorate (PI) and PI’s stated mission is to apply the science and practice of psychology to the fundamental problems of human welfare and the promotion of equitable and just treatment of all segments of society through education, training, and public policy. Accordingly, one of OEMA’s primary missions is to advocate for people and psychologists of color by ensuring that issues facing people of color are considered and adequately addressed in the field of psychology and by making certain that psychologists, particularly psychologists of color, are well trained to appropriately address those issues. As OEMA’s social justice and advocacy charge closely aligns with SCRA’s mission, I thought it would be fitting to provide an overview of a few of OEMA’s current projects and initiatives in an effort to encourage and facilitate collaborative relationships between my office and my like-minded colleagues in the SCRA membership.
OEMA has a strong tradition of providing training programs for students and researchers of color to help build the next generation of scholars who can lead the way in tailoring psychology to meet the diverse and ever-changing demography of American society. Currently, OEMA administers two professional training and mentorship programs. The first program, the Promoting Psychological Research and Training on Health Disparities Issues at Ethnic Minority Serving Institutions (ProDIGs) project is a small grants/mentorship program administered in collaboration with the APA Minority Fellowship Program. ProDIGs, which was established in 2002, seeks to increase the capacity of ethnic minority-serving postsecondary institutions and faculty to engage in health disparities research and to encourage student involvement in health disparities research training. This initiative is based on the assumption that significant improvement in the ethnic minority pipeline in psychology requires that efforts be made to strengthen not only the departments/programs of psychology at ethnic minority serving institutions, but also their relationships with the broader community of psychology. This year, ProDIGs identified and selected three awardees and the call for the 2015 cohort will close on May 1, 2015. For more information, please the ProDIGs website at http://www.apa.org/about/awards/pubint-prodigs.aspx?tab=1.
Our second professional development program is Cyber Mentors, which is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Cyber Mentors is designed to prepare behavioral and social scientists for successful independent research careers that examine HIV/AIDS, and health disparities among populations of color and other communities disproportionately affected by the virus. This two year mentorship program utilizes state of the art distance collaboration and learning technologies (e.g., social media, webinars, etc.) to facilitate the research independence of the program participants. In addition, funds are provided to support research and career development activities (e.g., preliminary data collection, additional training courses, travel to attend professional conferences, etc). Calls for new applicants to the Cyber Mentors program are accepted on a rolling basis. Please visit the Cyber Mentors webpage for more information (http://www.apa.org/pi/aids/programs/cyber/index.aspx).
ProDIGs and Cyber Mentors are the cornerstones of OEMA’s mission to increase the number of scholars of color building psychological science research agendas and to train psychologists of all races to adequately address our nation’s burgeoning health disparities. While OEMA continues its long-standing tradition of providing training and educational opportunities to psychologists and psychology students of color, we are also expanding our scope to educate the broader community about issues particularly relevant to America’s ethnic minority population.
Our new initiative, the Ethnicity and Health in America Series is designed to raise public awareness concerning the varied health concerns of America’s people of color, while highlighting the impact of psychology and psychological factors on those health concerns. During four of the national heritage months dedicated to ethnic minority Americans (i.e., Black History Month in February, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in May, National Hispanic-Latino Heritage Month in September, and National American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month in November), OEMA focuses on a chronic health condition particularly relevant to the ethnic group honored during that month. A website is dedicated to providing information for each health concern (http://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/index.aspx) and educational forums/workshops are sponsored in the community to educate the public regarding the significance of psychology to health. Please check the website for specifics on the topics and the upcoming events. It should be noted that the Ethnicity and Health in America Series is an opportunity for members to work with OEMA to provide content and information. This may be a great opportunity for students or early career scholars to get some experience writing on-line articles and to gain name exposure. If you are interested in working on the Ethnicity and Health in American Series with OEMA, please contact the office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, I would like to share the details of another engaging new initiative. Although OEMA serves as the “voice” for ethnic minority issues here at APA and the advocate for psychologists and communities of color, I am keenly aware that we are not the only entity affiliated within or affiliated with APA that addresses issues salient to psychologists and communities of color. In fact, at last count, there were at least 27 APA Divisions and 22 State Psychological Associations that have committees or interest groups dedicated to ethnic minority issues; and this number does not include APA governance groups (e.g., APAGS CEMA, APA CEMA, APA’s COR Ethnic Minority Caucus, etc.) that also address these concerns. With so many APA entities working to address issues and concerns among psychologists and communities of color, there should be a wealth of collaborations and unlimited opportunities to share resources. Unfortunately, many of us are working in silos, not aware of similar activities and efforts that our colleagues are implementing. OEMA is working to rectify this situation through a communication network among all APA affiliated entities that address ethnic minority issues. OEMA serves as the hub of this network.
This three-prong communication system includes 1) a listserv, 2) a column in OEMA’s online news journal, the Communiqué, and 3) an interactive webpage, which is in development. The listserv consists of the representative/chair of each ethnic minority interest group or committee. Relevant announcements concerning current opportunities, upcoming events and solicitations for collaborations are posted on this listserv. In addition, a special column in the Communiqué is devoted to reports of current events within APA and beyond. As the final component to this system, OEMA is working on an interactive webpage that will serve as a repository for all information concerning psychologists and people of color at APA and in the discipline more generally. In addition to housing announcements and current events, this interactive page will facilitate communication among entities through webpage postings and comments, and will provide a platform for APA members to offer feedback to APA leadership concerning ethnic minority issues.
I am enthusiastic about this new initiative and the potential collaborations that can be realized once this awesome network is complete. Among other things, this network can facilitate inter-group collaborations for APA entities that work with communities of color specifically and other disenfranchised groups more broadly. There is no end to what can be accomplished if we work together. As psychologists, we must remember and appreciate our potential to affect systemic change.
In his 1967 address at APA’s Annual Convention, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr issued a challenge to the nation’s psychologists to be advocates for social justice. Instead of promoting adjustment to an unjust society, Dr. King urged social scientists, particularly psychologists to support structural changes in society by highlighting the effects of systematic oppression, institutional racism and bigotry. While I am mindful of how far we have come, since Dr. King’s address, recent examples of what appears to be egregious civil rights violations against men, women and children of color (Michael Brown, Marlene Pinnock, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant to name just a few) remind me of how far we have left to go. Therefore, on the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty, and on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of SCRA, I echo Dr. King’s challenge. Let’s continue our dedication to social justice concerns. I urge you, my colleagues in SCRA, to not only advocate for the human rights of all, but also consider lending your voice to our efforts here in OEMA and in the Public Interest Directorate. We need the involvement of APA’s membership to be successful. Together, we can work to change and improve the human condition.